Doing it “Like a Local”


Dear Travel Agents/Advisors,

What should you advise your clients who want to “do it like the locals” when they travel, particularly those who want to experience the town/country as if they belong there?

Let’s face it, from the way a person dresses and talks, everyone knows she/he is a tourist. Learning some words in the language of the country one is visiting is a good idea, and shows a lot of respect. Dressing according to the country’s culture, such as covering one’s arms, or avoiding wearing mini skirts if it would be inappropriate, shows how much one cares.

In terms of food, I always ask the concierge of the hotel where the “locals” eat, for 2 reasons:

1.) I want to avoid overly touristy places with overpriced dishes and not-so-real flavor of the food.

2.) I like to experience the restaurants where “locals” eat the real food, to feel how they celebrate and enjoy life.

Chances are you will not find English speaking waiters, but you’ll definitely have fun trying to communicate using gestures, pictures, and perhaps may be lucky enough to even have other customers help you.

One thing you should avoid is eating street food. If common sense doesn’t tell you why, please let me explain loud and clear. The water they use to cook and wash street food. It is not boiled and that can hurt you badly. Let me say this one more time loudly – it can HURT you and make you very sick. Even if you think that you can eat anything and never get sick, DO NOT TAKE THE RISK OF EATING STREET FOOD. I know of a person who contracted the Hepatitis A virus from street food in Peru. Locals can consume the untreated water since they are used to it and it is already in their bodies. The germs in untreated water may be in their system, but are not in a foreign person’s!

It’s very important to emphasize to your clients that “doing it like a local” is fine IF risk is not involved. They should know not to go out alone or without a tour guide to areas that they are not sure are safe. Be sure to ask the concierge of the hotel or your tour guide which areas are safe to walk alone both during the day and night.

People love tourists, especially the nice and polite ones who keep themselves safe.

Travel smart and safely!

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